Loneliness in the workplace – the crucial role of HR and Learning

Steve Kimmens Career Wellbeing, psychology Leave a Comment

HR and Learning professionals are crucial in overcoming the challenge of loneliness in the workplace.

Organisational resilience depends on resilient individuals. Resilient human beings have strong relationships with their colleagues. They have a best friend at work. They feel understood. They are connected in a way that gives them a sense of belonging – a key human need.

Unfortunately, recent research studies are finding Australians are lonely. Loneliness impacts our career wellbeing and our overall mental health. If we’re lonely, we’re unlikely to feel resilient and we’re unlikely to be contributing to our organisation’s resilience. Learning professionals play a crucial role in connecting, a role that is all too easily overlooked and under-appreciated.

This article originally appeared in Training & Development magazine, September 2019 Vol. 46 No.3, published by the Australian Institute of Training & Development.

Download the PDF version of this article.

Loneliness impacts one in four Australians

In 2018 the Australian Psychological Society and Swinburne University completed the Australian Loneliness Report. One of their key findings was one in four Australian adults reported feeling lonely for three or more days in a week. It is a problem that eight out of ten Australians believe is getting worse (Lifeline Loneliness Survey, 2016).


Why loneliness matters to organisational resilience

Resilient organisations need a connected workforce who can come together to face challenges. Loneliness attacks the very underpinning of what it is to be human and that can stop us showing up. If we don’t feel understood, then we’re unlikely to feel safe to bring our whole selves to work.

The American Psychiatric Association’s ‘Center for Workplace Mental Health’ has found that loneliness can lead to diminished productivity, emotional stress, withdrawal from the team or absence from work, and weaker team performance.


Learning professionals connect colleagues

Great teams and leaders intuitively understand the importance of connection. They make time to build meaningful relationships that deepen trust. Unfortunately, not all teams are able to do this and even great teams can get lost in the frenetic pace of the modern workplace.


Learning professionals play a crucial role because their interventions connect colleagues.

Great learning professionals provide that strategic outside perspective, seeing what teams need help to get them back on track. A training session is often a break in the routine of work, an opportunity to connect colleagues in a meaningful way.


While it can be easy to overlook the ubiquitous ice-breaker exercise at the beginning of a session. They are used because they do break barriers to connection. They help us be more human and relatable to each other. When these connection activities are performed well, they are sometimes the most memorable activity for a team who have quietly become disconnected from one another.

Learning interventions that are designed to help individuals understand how they fit into the bigger picture of the organisation unlock the sense of belonging. If we can find a sense of purpose with the people around us, then we can find that greater sense of connection. These interventions also help us to understand what matters to our colleagues helping us to strengthen relationships and build our wellbeing.

Where learning interventions are delivered online or remotely then more creativity is needed to integrate connection. One way is to build a buddy system. While the learner might be on their ‘own’ through the learning they are encouraged to connect and share what they have gained from the program. Not only does this build connection, but it also helps to reinforce the learning outcomes.


Include wellbeing when measuring learning impact

Measuring impact is crucial to demonstrating the value of learning interventions. It can be easy to overlook the power of connection in wellbeing, and the importance of training to build those connections. Loneliness research provides an opportunity to provide further benefits measures for learning professionals.

That’s not to say that finding the right metrics is easy. The opportunity could be in tailoring the follow-up surveys to ask questions about connection and belonging. Alternatively, People Engagement surveys recognise the importance of connection and have different measures that can be used as sources of data.


Connection is key in the workplace

Learning professionals are on the frontline of combating the silent epidemic eating at organisational resilience, loneliness. They play a crucial role in connecting people at work. Connected people perform at a higher level, have higher overall wellbeing, are healthy and happier. They are resilient and help the organisation to be resilient. Unfortunately, the research shows that loneliness is a growing challenge for society and organisations. We need learning professionals empowered with an understanding of loneliness to help to tackle loneliness for the wellbeing of their people and the resilience of their organisations.


Resources for tackling loneliness in the workplace

Help build your organisation's resilience by connecting the people in the organisation.


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